Mozart should be one of your five a day. Even Sir Thomas Beecham said that it should be "compulsory for every member of the population between the the ages of four and eighty to listen to Mozart for at least a quarter of an hour daily." So, as if to help us meet our recommended daily allowance, distinguished pianist and eminent Mozartian Dame Mitsuko Uchida teamed up with the impressive Mahler Chamber Orchestra to close their recent tour of Europe and Japan with two slices of Mozart and a Bartók filling in a mouth-watering programme.

Dame Mitsuko Uchida © Jean Radel
Dame Mitsuko Uchida
© Jean Radel

Mozart is one of Uchida's go-to composers, and for many people Uchida is the go-to artist for Mozart's piano music, so two piano concertos from the composer's golden period, written for his Vienna subscription concerts between 1784 and 1786, created an understandable air of expectation. For these concertos, Uchida directed from the piano and modest forces were deployed, which created a chamber feel that was well-suited to these pieces. She opened with Piano Concerto no. 17 in G major, K453, drawing plenty of engagement from the players echoing her immaculate phrasing, although with a slight tendency to over-shape in places. There were fluid exchanges between soloist and orchestra and, thankfully, proper attention given to the middle voices. Uchida seemed to find new depths in the slow second movement, culturing sustained lines against gently pulsing strings and conveying pensive reflection. There was neat articulation and nice contrast in the darker variations of the third movement, and the vibrant outbursts and interjections from the orchestra were capricious, with a thrilling race to the finish. This was a more introspective take on this concerto, but no less enthralling.

A welcome performance of Bartók's Divertimento for Strings was directed by the MCO's concertmaster, the accomplished and versatile Matthew Truscott. Bartók borrowed forms and techniques from the classical period for this work while also giving a modern edge by mixing modal and tonal passages, scattering irregular rhythms and incorporating his characteristic "night-music" style. The wonderful strings of the MCO gave a superb performance of this work, showing clear understanding between the players, particularly fine playing from the principals in the solo passages, and giving shape and texture to the piece. They were animated and astringent in the rhythmic outer movements, capturing the gritty gypsy feel and the inherent vibrancy with a grinding crispness. There were some nice contrasts too, including pointed syncopations and a particularly jaunty pizzicato passage, with a third movement that was fizzing with excitement and energy. The atmospheric languid slow movement was particularly striking, with a very effective build up of dissonance and an evocative sense of foreboding.

Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 25 in C major, K503 opened full of grandeur and majesty, enhanced by the addition of natural trumpets and timpani. Uchida floated over the keys with serene confidence, producing a natural sensation that the music was simply trickling from her fingertips rather than emerging from the piano. The playing was precise and articulate, with thoughtful presentation of the melodies and themes flitting between soloist and orchestra. Uchida allowed the wind instruments to flourish and come to the fore, and the sheer joy in the faces of both Uchida and the players of the MCO was a delight to see. There was a particularly captivating first movement cadenza, beauty and warmth in the second movement, with the MCO showing sensitivity in support, and a crisp and vivacious third movement. Uchida crafted the performance with care, producing satisfyingly mellifluous lines which kept the music flowing naturally.